Event planning is tough. And time consuming. And complex.
Don’t get me wrong here, I truly love helping students plan events in our student union. It’s so much fun to see them put in time and effort to make their vision for an event a reality–and watching them succeed is awesome. Students are the reason I love my job.
But remember, event planning isn’t easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes thought. I’ve learned plenty about event planning from the years I spent as a student activity board programmer, as a graduate assistant for activities programming, and now in the role I play at MSUM. In those years, I have compiled a list of ten things I wish students knew about event planning.
1. We need all the info you can give us. You can never over-share when you’re event planning. We want to know every idea you’ve got in your head. A presentation is different from a meeting and a meeting is different from a workshop and a workshop is different from a Bingo Night and so on. There is need for different room set-ups based on what you’re planning. The more information you can provide to us about what exactly you’re planning will help us help you more effectively. In the end, your event will be better with the right set up.
2. You need to plan ahead. This sounds like a no-brainer, I get that. But I’m serious. Let me say it again: you need to plan ahead. Your student union is a busy place! We have over 5700 events in a year, so that means we are juggling many organizations’ wants and needs. If you want to have an event, give yourself enough time to plan for it and come see us as soon as possible to start looking for dates and times. Realistically, you should come to us six months or more before your event so we can help you reserve space.
3. Chairs and tables don’t just set themselves up. What do I mean by this? That there is people power put into every room set-up that we do. A person has to put out every table and chair that you need for your event. So it really helps our staff if you can be realistic about your event attendance–don’t have us place 250 chairs if you honestly believe you’ll only have 150 people at your event. Another part of this point is that it takes time for us to change from one room set-up to another. We can’t magically turn the ballroom from a casino night to a rock concert in the blink of an eye. Please be patient and remember that our staff do the best they can. Also, if you’re willing to help clean up after your event, it’s a tremendous help to our staff!
4. You need to think about sound. (I can hear all of you saying, “huh?” right now.) If you’re planning an event where you will need microphones, speakers, amps, etc., we need to know that from the get-go. The need for sound amplification is something we need to plan for, and knowing what you’ve got in mind will help us put you in the best venue for your needs. Plus, if we need to bring in an outside group to provide additional speakers, sound mixing, etc., we need enough time to help you find the right group and sign a contract.
5. Yes, you do have to use MSUM Dining Services if you want food at your event. This can be frustrating. Believe me, I do understand that. What you need to understand is that this policy is not in place to make you pay more money for food. The policy is really in place for liability reasons. Because of Sodexo’s contract with MSUM, they can be held liable if anyone eats on campus and then becomes ill. If they are in charge of preparing and delivering the food, then they can ensure food safety standards are met. Sometimes they will make exceptions to allow outside food–but you need to ask for permission, not for forgiveness.
6. We want your event to be awesome. Seriously, we do! We want to help you find the best possible venue for your event, the best set-up, the best equipment, and the best timing. In some cases, this means that we’ll make suggestions that you might not initially think are great. We might suggest using the Underground instead of the Ballroom, or booking a theater on campus instead of the Ballroom. We aren’t trying to change your event or get out of doing work. We’re making honest suggestions based on past experiences and our knowledge of what resources are available to you. Trust us, we’re on your side.
7. Event advertising doesn’t just mean “make a poster.” Sure, posters are a form of advertising–but they’re not that exciting. Events don’t advertise themselves. If you want people to come to your event, they need to know not only that it is happening, but also why they should come. Tell them. Use your advertising. Let me help you brainstorm and create a plan to advertise your event–that’s part of why I’m here! Don’t let advertising be an afterthought. You’re putting so much effort into making your event great, so make sure people show up.
8. You can’t plan an event by yourself. Unless you are a direct descendant of Superman or Wonder Woman, you cannot plan a large event all by yourself. You should gather a team of people to work together, share the workload, generate ideas, and help each other. I know delegating is scary. But sometimes you just have to surround yourself with other people who believe in the same idea and trust them to do their part.
9. You’ve got to be a little bit flexible. Sometimes you’ve got to give a little. Sure, you may not like it, but every once in a while, you have to compromise. We want to make your events work, and sometimes that means we’ll have to ask you to start at a slightly different time, use a slightly different set up, use a different room, or pick a different date than you originally wanted. We don’t ask you to be flexible to make you miserable. We ask because it’s necessary. Trust me on this one.
10. We aren’t magicians. Hard to believe, isn’t it? We do, in fact, have some human limitations. Honestly, we want to accommodate your requests and we do so whenever we can. Most things are possible with enough time to prepare and conversations to be on the same page. But last-minute requests and changes are really tough for our staff to make happen. If only we had magic wands…
Bonus! 11.Crazy ideas are possible. Yes, I said it. Dream big! Think of new ideas! Go wild! We want to make your student union the place where you can make your dreams and ideas a reality. So give us your craziest idea and we’ll do everything we can to make it happen. Sometimes it’s fun to do the impossible. (I think a famous person said that, but if not, I’ll take credit.)
If you want to learn more about event planning, join us at “Take the Lead” on Tuesday, February 25 at 5:30pm in CMU 101. This won’t be your average event planning workshop–come prepared for a fun, interactive evening!
Post by Annie Wood. Annie is the Assistant Director for Communications and Student Engagement in the Comstock Memorial Union at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She works with student organizations to help them turn their ideas into events.